Friday, September 08, 2006

1:30pm, Thursday: Checked into the Film Festival press office, picked up my credentials, the telephone-book-size Festival guide (440 whopping pages) and the absolutely essential Press & Industry screening schedule -- a little gridded booklet by which media and movie bizzers plan their morning/afternoon/evening lineup of films (and note with frustration the overlapping screenings of pics that’ll have to be missed). Was also handed a blue and yellow TIFF tote bag filled with invaluable movie-related items. (Coupon for an Ontario wine country tour, anyone? How about a jar of Garnier Skin Naturals anti-wrinkle firming cream?) (Note to editor: goods will be dispensed with in an ethically correct manner. Like the trash.)

And we’re off. First film is a Fox screening of “A Good Year,” Sir Ridley Scott’s larky adaptation of Peter Mayle’s novel about a hard-charging British moneyman who inherits his beloved, eccentric uncle’s chateau and vineyard in the south of France. (Hmmm, that Ontario wine tour – compare and contrast?) Russell Crowe plays Max the testosteroned arbitrageur, now faced with a big dilemma: stay in London and make millions and never take a weekend off, or move to the late (flashbacks courtesy of Albert Finney) uncle Henry’s home in Provence, and, stop and smell the giant sunflowers that line the country roads. No-brainer here, especially as the chateau comes with a nutty vintner, his cheery, cheeky cook of a wife, and a couple of beautiful femmes, one of whom is named Fanny. Someone once said that if a director speeds-up the film for comic effect it’s a sign of desparation, and Sir Ridley does that and then some, but Francophiles, Oenophiles, and Marion Cotillard-philes won’t mind. Interviewing Sir Rid and Mr. Crowe on Saturday, so enough of that. (Except to note that the automobile-of-the-moment-in-movies seems to be the Smart car, the 2-seat park-it-sideways vehicle that Woody Allen takes for a fateful spin in “Scoop,” and that Crowe’s Max revs recklessly along Provencal superhighways. Toronto’s streets are also a poppin’ with the little Smarties, several of which sport advertisements. (Garnier Lift, anyone?)
Time for a quick dinner, and a ride (have brought a bike – Toronto is a civilized, cycle-friendly town) back to the hotel, which is a nice, modest little place except that it’s in the heart of U of T fratboy land – it’s rush week, and the fraternity brethren have moved their couches onto the front lawns, the better to drink beer and ogle sorority sisters as they march by.) Then it’s the opening evening public screening of “The Lives of Others,” a grim (but also comic) account of Big Brother-ism in Communist East Germany. Destined for foreign language Oscar contention, this first film by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck centers around a pasty secret police officer (Ulrich Muhe) who eavesdrops on an East German playwright and his actress girlfriend. Won’t say more bout this clever, compelling look into Eastern Bloc-headedness and its oppressive rule over the public, except to note two things. One: the public screening was at Toronto’s lovingly-restored grand palace of a theater, the Elgin, which seats thousands – and every one of those seats was full for a GERMAN LANGUAGE MOVIE ABOUT THE STASI! And von Donnersmarck gets a standing ovation! Torontonians: They’re film fest crazy.
Second thing: Speaking of the Stasi, there are uniformed security guards at most press and industry screenings and public showings, scanning audiences with night-vision binoculars? . Yes, they're looking for pirates, I know. But it’s kind of creepy, knowing that someone is watching while you’re watching….)


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